Efforts should be to win polls through free and fair process
THE High Court of Bombay at Goa on Monday delivered a stinging blow to the government by quashing and setting aside the reservation of wards in five municipal councils, polls to which were scheduled on March 20. The High Court order is seen as a huge setback for the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s bid to wrest control of the urban local bodies. While setting aside the reservation of wards in five municipalities of Margao, Mapusa, Mormugao, Sanguem and Quepem, the court directed that a fresh notification be issued within 10 days by following the norms and that the election process be completed by April 15. The High Court said that the reservation was done by bypassing the statute. “We direct the director and ex-officio additional secretary, municipal administration, to issue fresh notification under relevant section of the Goa Municipalities Act, within a period of ten days from today, thereby ensuring reservation for women of not less than one-third of the total number of seats reserved for direct elections to the municipal councils,” the High Court order says.
Ever since the reservation of wards was announced, there was widespread criticism over the manner in which it was done. The opposition parties had alleged that it was done to deny them a level playing field and ensure victory of the candidates fielded by the ruling party. Aggrieved over the government move, several local level leaders had approached the High Court seeking justice. Even as the High Court had posted the matter for final hearing on February 22, the State Election Commission rushed to issue the election schedule. The High Court has noted that the exercise of making reservations to 11 councils was completed by the director in a single day on February 4, 2021, and even the impugned order was issued on the same date. It also said that the DMA has admitted that there was no policy based on which the reservation has been made or rotation policy implemented. It observed that reservations could be made on whims and caprices and different yardsticks have been applied in respect of different municipal councils.
That there were flaws in the reservation of wards could be seen from the fact that ward number 1 of the Sanguem Municipal Council which has a single Scheduled Tribe voter has been reserved for the community, whereas ward number 4 and 10 with 235 out of 835 and 206 out of 681 voters respectively have not been reserved despite significant number of ST voters. Besides, some wards have been reserved in Sanguem and other municipal councils for Other Backward Classes despite the fact that their population was mere four percent whereas wards with 10 percent and above have been left untouched. It is not only reservations, even delimitations have been done in haphazard manner to divide voters in families, which are opposed to the ruling dispensation. It is surprising to note that despite the fact that municipal elections were being held in the state for decades, Goa still lacks a reservation policy that could be uniformly applied all over the state. This albeit helps the government or the ruling party to manipulate reservations to its advantage.
The High Court order has given the depleted opposition ammo to launch a frontal attack on the government, with almost all the parties seeking resignation of the Chief Minister, Pramod Sawant, and the Urban Development Minister, Milind Naik. The government has also come in for severe criticism from some in the ruling side also, with Vasco MLA calling for sacking of the Urban development Minister. The government has decided to challenge the High Court order in the Supreme Court on the ground that courts have no role to play when elections are imminent. While the government has the right to use options before it, it would have been better if it had taken steps to correct the wrongs observed by the High Court in its order. While winning elections is the prime motive of any political party, it should be the endeavour of the political outfits, especially the ruling dispensation, to ensure that the elections were free and fair with there being a level playing field for all. The government should seize the opportunity to correct the wrongs and set a good practice.